Question: The Congress won a stunning bypoll victory this year. What has that done for the ordinary Congress worker in terms of instilling confidence? Is there a sense of buoyancy after four years of being out of power?
Answer: In the last four years, there have been by-elections in 22 Assembly constituencies across Rajasthan and the Congress has won 20 of those 22. We won four Assembly by-elections in the beginning of Vasundhara Ji’s term. These last two weeks there were elections in two Lok Sabha seats and one Vidhan Sabha seats – a total of 17 Vidhan Sabha seats. We won all of those. These elections have shown that the people’s sentiments and the undercurrent are now in the Congress’s favour. The elections are not won in the last two weeks of campaigning. It’s a sustained effort by the entire Congress party over the last few years which has endeared us to the common people. Our stand has been vindicated by the people. So all of us feel very motivated and the way Rahul Gandhi has been aggressively taking on the BJP and asking the tough questions, making them accountable, that has been well received by the people of Rajasthan.
Q: What is your reading of the recent bypoll verdict? Is it a statement of Vasundhara Raje’s growing unpopularity or the Congress’s growing popularity?
A: First of all, it is a rejection of Vasundhara Ji’s tenure of last four years, clearly. But it is also an acceptance of the Congress party’s and Rahul Gandhi’s stand on several important public issues. And we have taken stands on many such issues. For example, we spoke out about farmer suicides, investment, jobs and corruption.
Q: Increasingly, a narrative is emerging that the Rajasthan Congress is split in camps. How true is that assessment?
A: I’ll tell you something, this narrative is BJP propaganda. If the Congress had any camps, we would not perform so splendidly over the last four years. The Congress has been united, is united and will remain united and the BJP can’t tolerate that. Our strength is our unity. Look at the by-elections, the municipal elections and the panchayat elections. We have done exceedingly well. Over the last four years, the Congress has been strong and that is why we are in such an effective position to defeat the BJP six months from now.
Q: One of the seats where the election was held was Ajmer, which you have represented in the Lok Sabha. But you chose not to contest this time. Are you leaving the field open to contest the Vidhan Sabha elections later this year?
A: I am working as the party president in the state. Ultimately, who will contest on which seat will be decided by the party high command. The party has given me a job to do, which is to strengthen the party and build the party. My job was to win all the three seats. So the party, in its wisdom, decided who will fight from where. And my job was to make sure all of them win. All leaders of the Congress in the state have contributed immensely. And it’s because of their efforts, and the efforts of those party workers who have worked hard by standing at booths day and night, that we have won today. But what will happen in the future that the central leaadership will decide.
Q: Congress has been raising a lot of concerns over the law and order situation in the state. Just this year, there have been reports of at least three attacks by the ‘gravel mafia’ in the state. Is the situation really that bad?
A: It’s worse! People in Delhi don’t realise that there is a sand mafia and a land mafia. There are encounters, corruption cases, abductions, rapes and murders happening all over the state. The Government of India’s Home Ministry data suggests that the third highest number of rapes happen in Rajasthan. Rajasthan is number one in atrocities against Dalits and tribals according to the Home Ministry. The recent example of the sand mafia attacking a sarpanch is a blatant example of the state supporting such elements. Forget about going after the criminals, they are in their own way supporting these elements. This is something we have asked Vasundhara Ji to clarify but over four years she has turned a blind eye to this.
Q: The last four years, elsewhere in the country, have not been very good for the Congress. The party, with the exception of Punjab, has lost one state after another. Rajasthan is heading to elections this year. How will the state set the stage for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? Can the Congress and Rahul Gandhi emerge as the nucleus around which a grand coalition can form?
A: Look, we have already won Punjab and the BJP has lost Bihar and Delhi. These by-elections has shown that the tide is in favour. We are also headed to victory in Karnataka and the heartland of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will also go in our favour. Rahul Gandhi, I think, is the only person who can challenge Narendra Modi at the national stage. The opposition feels very, very enthused when they see Rahul Gandhi attacking the BJP. The Congress is the only party which can be the pivot for an anti-BJP alliance. And that is well established now. There will be a set of alliances that will challenge the BJP and the Congress is the natural pivot for any such alliance.
Q: In the Gujarat elections, Congress was accused of indulging in ‘soft Hindutva’. There is a sense that Congress has abandoned minorities. Is that true? And is it also happening in Rajasthan?
A: The party has always raised its voice whenever there has been atrocities against any minority or when there has been any mob lynching, whether of Muslims, Christians or any other community. This whole ‘soft Hindutva’ and ‘hard Hindutva’ is made to deflect the attention of the people of India. Issues of jobs, corruption and falling investment are issues that the BJP will never raise. They will instead, raise issues such as mandir, masjid and beef. These are emotive issues that are, frankly, not that important when compared to farmer suicides or lack of jobs. The economy is dipping. And what about these people who are running away from the country? First it was Lalit Modi, then it was Nirav Modi and now it is that Rotomac fellow. So why doesn’t the government of India answer those questions, instead of focusing on whether Rahul Gandhi goes to a temple or a church?
Q: What is the Rajasthan Congress’ roadmap for the next six months?
A: We have already made plans. We are going to start a mass-contact programme. We are going to work with double the strength, double the energy and double the humility. After our win, we have even more responsibility on our shoulders. In every division, every district and every block, the Congress is going to be seen everywhere. We are going to give a credible alternative and an alternative that the people of Rajasthan are going to prefer. The BJP has already been rejected in these elections and I am certain that eight months later, we are going to get the blessings of the people of Rajasthan.